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Play it Again, at Music on the Wharf

There is a strong tradition in Maple Ridge of local musicians entertaining at dances and concerts...

There is a strong tradition in Maple Ridge of local musicians entertaining at dances and concerts: one of which is celebrated each summer with the Maple Ridge Historical Society’s Music on the Wharf concert series that showcases musicians sharing their craft with the Fraser River as their stage.

At the start of the 20th century, these events were often fundraisers to help build infrastructure within the community, donate to a worthy cause, or during wartime, to raise money to send “morale packages” overseas.

Even before there were official dances and concerts, pioneer families used music as their main entertainment. Either playing instruments themselves, through voice or for those who could afford the luxury of a gramophone, through recorded sound.

Mrs. J.C. MacFarlane, daughter of pioneer John McIver, wrote in 1933: “There being no bridge or progressive parties in those days, the chief amusement was dancing when families were grown up. There were several large families with five to 10 members in each and plenty of girls. The dances were not Cinderella dances – over at midnight – but continued until five or six in the morning, with ‘caller off’ for the square dances …Several fiddlers would be present, but only one played at a time as there would be neither harmony nor unison if they played together.”

This shared sense of camaraderie extended through the trying times as well. People used music to cope.

During the First World War, entertainment for the troops living in miserable conditions in Europe was provided – orchestras were bundled together according to unit.

In the Maple Ridge Museum collection, there are clarinets, which belonged to Arthur Watson of Whonnock, who played them in the “family band” prior to taking them off to war.

After the war, these men returned home with their musical skills enhanced by the experience of having played with a group. Also in the collection from the Watson family is a music box, handed down from generation to generation.

During wartime on the home front, while dances were actively fundraising for the war effort, they were not, however, sullen affairs. An excerpt from the Maple Ridge Gazette on January 10, 1942 notes: “From 9pm till 7:30 am, there was something doing in either Pitt Meadows or Maple Ridge, for the dances in Hammond and Meadows commenced at 9 pm and the dance at Albion stopped at 7:30 am.”

As resident Hector Ferguson once recalled, the end of the dance would have a man seating his partner, and then “he would walk over to the door and open up his vest in order to dry his shirt, which would be dripping with perspiration.”

Although festivities will not run into the wee hours of the morning, this coming Monday, August 26th at 7pm the last of the Music on the Wharf concert series will take place. Local musicians Penelope Above will wrap up the season on Port Haney Wharf playing their mix of “groovy rhythms and strong vocal harmonies.” This is a free event, but be sure to bring a lawn chair for seating, or your dancing shoes.

Instruments, such as those donated from the Watson family will be on display in the Maple Ridge Museum this fall. If you have or know of anyone willing to donate hand held musical instruments to our collection please contact Allison at 604-463-5311 or email